There are few things to celebrate during a global pandemic, but as our senior writer observes, the demise of the handshake may well be one of them. By Andrew Findlay. Illustration by Viktor Olynyk.
I miss many things about the pre-COVID-19 world: sitting elbow-to-elbow with strangers at a craft brewery, guilt-free birthday parties with 20 or more friends, not being circumvented in the grocery-store aisle like I have the bubonic plague, and unfettered travel across international borders, among many others. I do not, however, miss the handshake.
The multifarious ways North Americans use their hands to greet one another can be esoteric, the stuff of secret societies. There’s the straightforward common handshake, which is shorthand for business time (usually there’s money or a realtor involved). The more lighthearted version, with hands tilted upward and only thumbs interlocked, which we’ll call the “bro shake,” is often deployed in a spirit of camaraderie at the parking lot on a powder morning. The bro-shake-plus-back-slap hug suggests a heightened level of enthusiasm. The two-hand shake, where you place one hand on top of the already executed common handshake, is favoured by politicians and meant to convey trust and integrity, but it usually means the opposite. The handshake-knuckle-bump-finger-lock combo is difficult to interpret and would baffle a Shriner. And let’s not forget those uncomfortable moments when you thrust a hand forward expecting a strong, proud shake and instead receive the classic limp dead fish. The list of locally specific handshake variations is long, and inevitably I get it wrong. The result is an awkward mashing of hands and fingers that usually resolves into a simple face-saving high-five.
A proffered hand has historically been a bonding gesture of friendship. But let’s face it, you never know where that hand has been. Perhaps the obligatory handshake’s time has come and gone, to be replaced by a simple head nod. It’s easy to deploy, difficult to misinterpret, and still acknowledges someone without hand-to-hand contact. I never thought I’d type these words or even think them, but thank you, COVID-19.